Beaconsfield Path by Linda Olson Pehlke
Linda Olson Pehlke is an author and urban planner living in Brookline. Her book, Exploring the Paths of Brookline, is available at Brookline Booksmith and other locations. The series "In Step: Brookline's Paths" was published in Our Town Brookline magazine in 2005 and appears here with the permission of its publisher and the author.
Access to the Train for Fisher Hill Residents
Walking Beaconsfield Path is not so much a stroll in the woods as it is a brief trip through a rail yard. Linking Fisher Hill and the Beaconsfield T stop, the path is 364 feet long beginning at Beaconsfield Road and ending at Clark Road. The path provides a useful shortcut for Fisher Hill residents, who avoid having to walk up to Dean Road and back down Beaconsfield to access the T stop. Originally built as a tunnel passing under the train tracks, the path cost $8,000 to construct in 1917, making it the most expensive of all Brookline's paths. The residents of Fisher Hill wanted convenient access to the train and were in favor of building the path, but they had a hard sell on their hands. The railroad company wanted nothing to do with it. Their stated concern was safety, fearing that passengers would make mad dashes to catch the train as they emerged from the tunnel; but, their arguments didn't hold up under scrutiny, and the tunnel under the tracks was built as planned. Beaconsfield Path holds another distinction it is the only path that has been substantially changed and rerouted since its creation. In January 1977, in response to safety concerns, the tunnel under the tracks was filled in and closed, and the path was rerouted. It originally continued east on the northern side of the tracks, hugging the condominium building at 120 Beaconsfield. Today, the path crosses the tracks to the southern side before continuing east.
The Beaconsfield Train Station, circa 1910.
Photo courtesy of Joel Shield.
If you've ever taken a walk along train tracks through open lands, perhaps you remember the lack of shade. That's because the trees have been removed to avoid any conflict with the passing locomotives, and the surrounding land must occasionally be mowed to maintain this status. The resulting vegetation is best described as scrubland, where native wildflowers and weeds grow with abandon. Field guides call this "disturbed land", and many of the plants that are said to thrive in such places can be found here in late summer, such as chicory, milkweed, and ragweed. While it is not a weed, the fragrant honeysuckle vine that grows on the backyard fence next to the inbound T shelter was probably not planted, but is a welcome, if uninvited, creeper. Another familiar rail yard feature is evident on certain days: the smell of creosote from the railroad ties, which perfumes the air whenever warm sunshine bakes the ties.
History speaks to us in the form of the diminutive cut granite marker from 1840, inscribed "B5", indicating the 5-mile distance to Boston's South Station.
The Beaconsfield T stop was first built as a private station stop to service the residents and visitors to the Beaconsfield Terrace, a unique self-contained community built by Eugene Knapp and his successors in the 1890's. The castle-like buildings on Tappan Street near Beacon Street are remnants of this original development.
© 2010 Linda Olson Pehlke. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author.
Map by Robert Pehlke. Beaconsfield Station photo courtesy of Joel Shield.